The court of public opinion has led to a lot of misrepresentation. Principles like the rule of law and due process have served Americans well over the long haul. But, if a video makes us eyewitnesses to a two-month delay of justice, should we speak out? These four probing questions should lead you to answer, “Yes.”
Are you speaking out for the common good, or your own?
Virtue signaling has become so accepted that silence appears to imply consent. On the contrary, sometimes holding one’s tongue shows restraint, not a lack of concern. Think of the last time you sent that angry email and regretted it. Few people can self-assess and respond wisely the same day when emotions flare up.
However, when I talk with friends in black communities, I realize they could use more timely public support. They describe a kind of fear the majority of us do not face. Ahmaud Arbery’s death makes our African American neighbors wonder whether they are safe in general. It’s just unsettling.
Don’t statistics show that our justice system and police are fair?
When was the last time you were comforted by a statistic? Statistically, most people survive Covid-19 and yet many people fear they are playing Russian roulette by going for groceries. That’s a comparative taste of the fear among many people of color.
One police officer I know said whenever he interacts with young black men, he must assure them they are safe. He explains how most officers never discharge their weapon in the line of duty. If that is news to you, think of how the same misperception may affect our African American neighbors.
Isn’t identity politics deepening the divide?
The majority culture of any country enjoys a level of social capital and access some minority communities lack. For example, if I get pulled over, unaware my tail light is out, I see the officer as a part of my community, accountable for his actions. I expect to be treated fairly and with respect. But people less connected to mainstream culture can see the justice system as somebody else’s justice system.
Calling this difference “white privilege” is a counter-productive ad hominem. But the label stems from two frustrations. First, marginalized communities face some inequities that are baked-into culture. Second, it is difficult to draw attention to it by speaking politely. Voices of public accountability can help curb this frustration. Voices of public accountability can help change the narrative from us-and-them to we the people. Voices of public accountability in the Arbery shooting were necessary to keep justice delayed from becoming justice denied.
Don’t actions speak louder than words?
Service and sacrifice speak well as long as they speak quietly. “When you give, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,” Jesus said. Nevertheless, a quiet, steady drum beat of service may need an occasional cymbal crash. Sometimes actions need words.
Despite all the self-serving virtue signals, we must risk speaking out to reassure. Timely support can blunt the sharp edge of fear and bridge cultural divides. Some Black leaders are embarrassed by too much public outcry about race. But they also concede the need for reassurance. They just want to know someone has their back.